Monday, May 1, 2017

The New Social Order in Uttar Pradesh

- Sanjay Kumar

UP elections results stunned everyone, losers as well as victors. With 40 percent of votes, the BJP managed to get more than 75% of the state assembly seats. Other major parties of the state, SP and BSP, were left far behind licking their wounds, even though these parties had managed to retain their core vote parcentages of 28% (in alliance with Congress) and 20%, respectively. The appointment of Adityanath Yogi, the mahant of Gorakhnath Math, as the chief minister, and actions of his government like the banning socalled illegal abbatoirs, anti-Romeo squads, and loan waiver of small and marginal farmers, are indications that the BJP government in state is clearly aiming for a new social order, an order which it hopes will consolidate its political success. 

Politics and Society under Bourgeois Democracy

Bourgeois democracies create a specifically mediated relationship between politics and society, through which both, politics and society shape each other. Politics and state action are not passive reflections of the social order. Rules of electoral politics in India have meant that majority governments have been easily formed with votes of even 30% of the electorate. Political success requires agency, conscious planning and organisation. All indications are that from micro level booth management to sending subtle messages to its core voters, the BJP simply out maneaouvered its opponents in UP. Politics, which ensures access to state power, the most organised agency in society, is actually a vehicle to mould society. RSS has been working on this premise for decades. Now that the BJP is in power at center and many large states of the country, there should be no doubt that it is going to try to turn India according to its ideology and vision. However, it will be wrong to attribute political success purely to the actions and abilities of players. Actually, political success itself is premised upon social influence. The latter can take diverse forms, from outright domination, hegemony with passive/active consent, to negotiated compromises. Hence, the political success of the BJP itself is based upon an underlying social dynamic. Through a combination of events, the BJP under Modi has been successful in tapping into this dynamic. What is this dynamic? What is the nature of its influence over society? How far the trends of this dynamic match with RSS gameplan? Also, what kinds of social currents are agaisnt this dynamic, and how can it be countered? There is little doubt that progressive and democratic forces in the country need to address these questions for making sense of the BJP success and developing credible alternatives. 

A lot has been written about how in this election, and before these in Asom and in 2014 Loksabha elections, BJP has been able to form majority governments by completely disregarding Muslims. The obverse of this is the consolidation of large sections of Hindus under a politicla programme which has a clear anti-minority agenda, and whose violent consequences have been evident for many years now. Persecution of minorities is an established fact of Indian social and political life, a lot has been writtten and discussed about it. However, a curious fact about discussions on, and activism against Hindutva is that little light is thrown on Hindu society which is giving its politically allegiance to Hindutva. We need to turn our lens towards the socalled 'majority' community and explore processes that are turning it communal. Without this we will be forced to argue that the success of Hindutva communalism is purely a result of propaganda, conspiracy, organisational acumen, etc (depending upon one's ideological orientation, any one of these can be picked) of the RSS/BJP. Without such an analysis we can not show and convince Hindus that the path of Hindutva is actually a path of complete disaster for India as a society. Hindutva is bad for every Indian, not just for minorities. The UP election results are as good an opportunity as any other, to have a look at the ways the Hindu social order, despite its many bewildering and contradictory diversity, is changing; changes which at present appear to be strengthening Hindutva appeal. 

Resurgence of 'Upper' Caste Hegemony: Caste has changed, but is still a dominant fact of social life in most of India. For more than five years UP was ruled by a Dalit woman. This is an unprecedented fact in more than three thousand years old history of Hindu society. Yet, caste has not disappeared. It remains perhaps the most common identity, both in private and public life, and has morphed into newer forms of hierarchy and social power. The so called upper castes, which constitute about 20% of UP population, remain the most influential caste group in society. Like in the rest of India, these castes dominate urban economy, bureaucracy, education sector, judiciary, media, and even non government sector organisations. Upper castes do not dominate UP through control of land and traditional institutions of rural society, the way their ancestors did upto two generations ago. Capitalism, political mobilisation of other castes in electoral democracy, and reservations in bureaucracy and educational institututions have meant that the old order with its naked violence and Brahmanical inhumanity is dead for good. 

'Upper' castes remain self-conscious of themselves as the upper castes in society, despite a number of inner fissures, and many among them actually living in poverty. Upper caste influence in UP takes different forms in different parts of social life. Their hegemony is most clearly visible in the media and public discourse. A popular movie like Dabang based on UP, has a Brahmin police officer as the hero, a Prajpat (of potter caste) as his love interest, and wrestler of a Netaji (not so hidden reference to upstart Yadavs) as the vile villain. All vernacular newspapers, tv news channels are owned and managed by upper castes. The upper caste self-representation is hegemonic because it is accepted as universal, while self-representations of other castes like of Yadavs, or Jatavs, are self-conscious particular. Notice another fact. While political commentators routinely refer to other castes and Muslims, as 'vote banks' of particular political parties, upper castes, to all contrary evidence, are rarely mentioned as a 'vote bank'. 

The political hegemony which upper castes enjoyed during the freedom movement, and under Congress rule, has been seriously eroded by subsequent political developments. In a nutshell, the Hindutva programme of BJP is a chance for upper castes to regain their political hegemony. This has been evident for many decades now, ever since the internal haemorrhage of Congress in the late eighties. Upper caste dalliances with SP and BSP were only tactical to serve immediate interests. Hindutva is a different bandwagon altogether. Like the national development plans of Congress earlier, Hindutva by design is a project with hegemonic pretensions, which aims to represent the entire Hindu society. Nationalism and development are the programmatic elements of this project, suitably modified from earlier Congress variants to match the neo-liberal political economy. In the present circumstances there is a natural gravitation of upper castes towards it. Now that the BJP has got a national level presence in Modi, it is very sure that upper castes form its natural core of voters. Like Congress earlier, it does not have to do anything special to attract them. Hindutva forces and 'upper' castes together can share in the glory of 'leading the nation'. 

This is very much evident in the results of recent elections. Upper castes now have more than double the number of elected members in the current assembly than their population ratio. Around half of BJP MLAs are 'upper' caste. According to election observers 'upper' castes this time maintained a strategic silence in conversations before elections, while in earlier elections they had been publicly vocal about their preferences (Messages, Mathematics and Silences in BJP's UP Win, Radhika Ramaseshan, EPW, 27 March, 2017). This was in consonance with the 'dog whistle' strategy of the RSS described by a pracharak as ' Man hee man se vote deejiye, sayam rakhiye apnee vaani par'. The aim was to keep political opponents, mainly Muslims confused. The BJP election arithmatic was simple. Gather other caste voters, who may be disgruntled with the Yadav dominated SP and Jatav dominated BSP, around the core of upper caste voters. This strategy is in obvious harmony with upper caste intentions to regain hegemony, for which they need to successfully counter politically organsied Yadavs and Jatavs. 

Authoritarian Conservativism of the Indian Social World

For almost two decades now, vigilante youth from various 'Hindu' organisations have been attacking young couples in public spaces, particularly around Valentine Day. Under the BJP rule in UP, this important work of keeping Indian cultural ethos pure from 'contamination' has become a direct state responsibility. The 'anti-Romeo Squads' of UP police under Yogi government are the state sanctioned moral discplinarians of the society. There are indications that this policy may not be as unpopular as the liberals, progressives and some young people who are targeteted would hope it to be. A recent survey of young Indians aged between 15-35 found that 84 % of the married among them had arranged marriage, i.e marriages in which their famliy would have played an important role. This percentage is likely to be even higher in state like UP. Only 4% of marriages among these youth were found to be intercaste.

The anti-Romeo squads are an example of public violence on targeted individuas, against which there is little public outrage in India. The most common liberal comment against such violence is the lack of appreciation of an individual's freedom. While true, this however is not the end of the story. An effort to understand social context of such violence brings out other salient facts. First, there is a widespread acceptance of certains kinds of violence in society. The perpetrators of such violence do not operate outside society, but share its moral codes. There is a false notion widely believed by Indians that their society was, and is, tolerant and non-violent. A caste ridden society of rigid hierarachies can not reproduce itself without violence. The operational mechanism of caste is strict control over youth, particularly female sexuality. This partly explains why there is little public opposition to violence perpetrated by Hindu vigilante groups and anti Romeo squads on young couples. Caste, which also fragments society, creates 'communitarian' indifference to violence if the targets are outside one's community. This allows dominant ruling groups to selectively use violence without facing united opposition. Second, this violence can not be reduced to an assertion of traditional values against the so called modern life styles. Development of capitalism, urbanisation, exposure to global cultural mores, presence of women in public sphere, etc are transforming all aspects of Indian social environment. Against this whirlwind of change, 'pure tradition' is not an option. This kind of violence actually is a manifestation of the inability of the Indian society to come to terms with rapid and deep changes. A corresponing change in social ethics necessary for a healthy public life is not occurring. In their absence, the society is getting sucked into violence. Increasing violence against women is also related to this failure of the Indian society. 

Authoritarian conservatism of Indian social order and Hindutva exist in a symbiotic relationship. The former provides a fertile ground to Hindutva violence, which in return has become an organisational vehicle for this conservatism. Hinduva cultural politics has extended authoritarian conservatism of Indian society towards specific anti-minority goals. The two most visible are the campaign for the destruction of Babri mosque, and violence in the name of cow. It is also gaining success in uniting it with a revanchist notion of nation to target 'enemies' of the nation. Hence, violence by ABVP activists against students of Jadvapur and Delhi Universities, and by a group of lawyers against Kanhaiya Kumar in the premises of Delhi High Court, should not be seen separated from everyday violence against women, dalits, and minorities. Hindutva has succeeded in bringing the violence rampant in the villages and streets of India to venues which in the liberal imagination of India were believed to be quarantined from it. 

Public Immorality

During election campaign in UP, Mr Modi (in)famously created binaries of electrictiy supply during Ramzan vs Deevali, and land given to kabristan vs shamshan. This was dog whistle politics. On surface he said that both elements of the binary should be tretaed equally. Actually, he conveyed to his supporters the idea that the SP government was favouring Muslims. The PM of the country had no factual basis to make the later claim. It was a baseless allegation. Mr Modi is counted among the best of political orators in the country. Actually his speeches are laced with exaggerations, baseless allegations, and false information. Mr Modi's speeches are a symbol of public discourse driven by self interest, wholly lacking in self reflection, and having little regard for truth, or even factual accuracy. This discourse rewards loud brashness, and aggression. It does not allow reason, exchange of ideas and empathy. Trolling on the social media is another apt example. 

This discourse asserts moral claims on the basis of irrational belief systems and religious sentimentality. In reality it creates public immorality. As the only path from self conceit in private life leads to falsehood and lies, the dicsourse promoted by Hindutva is making India a society of liars. In the interior regions of Indian Himalayas it is not uncommon to hear farmers claim that all male progeny of their cows are born diseased so that they die early. In reality male calves, which have no economic utility for farmers, are forced to succumb to unnatural deaths, but farmers do not accept it out of fear of being accused of killing 'gauvansh'. Every one in the community knows what is the cause of large number of deaths of male calves, yet in public everyone tells a lie. Or notice, how gleefully Hindutva supporters on social media circulate information about their targets which they know to be false. This happened most recently about Delhi University woman student Gurmehar Kaur who had bravely made a facebook post about her desire for peace between Indian and Pakistan and asserted that she was not afraid of ABVP. In response a video claiming to be her frolicking and drinking in a car was circulated widely. The aim was her character assasination. The video was fake, yet for Hindutva supporters that seemed to matter little. They had no hesitation in spreading false claims as long it served their interest. They have also used fake videos for communal violence in Muzaffarnagar, on JNU, etc.

In UP under Mr Adityanath, the blatant aggression of Hindutva has gone beyond public discourse to physical assaults by Bajrang Dal, Hindu Yuva Vahini and VHP activits, on minorities, and even police in Agra and Saharanpur. These are gross manifestations of what is increasingly becoming publicly acceptable in the new social order in UP. While these aggresssions have visible victims, the more subtle effects of Hindutva's discourse are changing the very nature of society. 

In personal life most humans are likely to tell lies if it benefits them, are prone to exaggerate their achievements, tend to be aggressive against the weak, and submissive to the strong. Public mores encourage, or discourage different tendencies in humans, so that what humans are likely to do and say in public, is different form what they may do or say in private. Aggression, hatred, lies, and the consequent fear, greed and conceit make any creative human activity impossible. It is difficult to imagine arts, aesthetics, science, or even technological innovation in a society ruled by these sentiments. Socially opperssed are the first victim in a public sphere where violence, brashness, and blatant lies are rewarded. This kind of public sphere does not encourage solidarity, mutual appreciation and warmth among humans. Widespread anomie, which shows in depression and suicides is a direct result. 


An important contributory factor behind the political success of Hindutva is the ideological and organisational bankruptcy of politial parties opposed to it. The old style natioanlist, developmentalist, or identity driven social justice platforms are proving to be utterly unable to counter the Hindutva onslaught. Even if opportunistic, on the spot alliances forged for the sole purpose of defeating BJP succeed for the moment, the social dynamic lying at the base of Hindutva success will keep on moving India towards an authoritarian and violent future. On the other hand, a comprehensive counter to Hindutva requires a successful mass politics around internal contradictions of this very dynamic. Above analysis has tried to lay bare some of the social and public ideological trends which exist in a mutually reinforcing relationship with Hindutva. The very potent neo liberal political economic trends are not touched. The intention is to understand some aspects of society Indians are making for themselves by following the political lead of Hindutva; in the hope that better sense will prevail before it is too late.

Sanjay Kumar teaches at St. Stephens College and is associated with NSI


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